19 December 2022

Finland’s defence minister takes paternity leave

19 December 2022

Finland’s defence minister has claimed two months’ paternity leave.

Although Antti Kaikkonen’s move comes amid the biggest regional security crisis in decades, and with Finland waiting to join Nato, Finns who are used to family-oriented social policies are largely unconcerned.

Mr Kaikkonen, a 48-year-old father-of-two, will be off from January 6 to dedicate time to hissix-month-old son.

“Children remain small only for a moment, and I want to remember it in ways other than just photos,” Mr Kaikkonen tweeted, assuring the country that Finland’s security “will be in good hands”.

He later told Finnish news agency STT that “although ministerial duties are very important to me, you’ve got to be able to put family first at some point”.

The five Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – have made gender equality a top priority in their policies, and that includes encouraging fathers to spend more time with their children.

In Sweden, both parents together receive 480 days of parental leave per child, with each parent able to use half – 240 – of those days, which are also transferable.

In the case of multiple births, an extra 180 days are granted for each additional child.

In September, Finland launched a gender-neutral parental leave system allowing both parents to take 160 days of paid leave each and to transfer a certain amount of days between each other.

Top male politicians in the Nordic states have made use of their paternal leave rights to a certain extent, but it is still not common practice.

In Denmark, finance minister Nicolai Wammen began a two-month paternity leave in late 2020, saying that his son “has mostly seen his father on TV”.

Others in Denmark to do so include the former ministers of immigration, Mattias Tesfaye, and culture, Joy Mogensen.

In Finland, former prime minister Paavo Lipponen, a trailblazer in combining politics and fatherhood, took paternal leave in 1998, albeit for a much shorter period.

Mr Lipponen, now 81, received plenty of positive coverage in international media for his family arrangements.

Beyond the Ukraine war and rumblings from neighbouring Russia, the Finnish defence minister’s move also comes at a politically sensitive time.

Finland faces a general election in early April, and its Nato accession is in limbo mainly due to resistance from Turkey, which claims Finland and fellow alliance hopeful Sweden must first address Ankara’s concerns over the alleged activities of Kurdish militants in the two countries.

The parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify Finland and Sweden’s applications. The 28 other Nato states have already done so.

Finland’s leading newspaper Helsingin Sanomat said in an editorial that the country is likely to join Nato only after the new government has taken office, and took a positive stance on Mr Kaikkonen’s leave, saying it contained “a message to society”.

“Observers outside Finland may not only be surprised but also sympathise with the fact that the defence minister can take paternity leave right now. At least it shows that there’s no panic in Finland,” the paper said.

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